1009 Abbot Kinney
Venice, CA 90291
Yelp: 3.5 stars
Interview Date: Thursday, June 17, 2010
Personally, I was thrilled to interview Joanna Moore, owner of Axe Restaurant on Abbot Kinney in Venice. As my 27th interview, she is only the third woman owner whom I have profiled. It is always exciting for me to see women in the male-dominated restaurant industry. For our interview, we sat outside in the recently opened patio garden behind Axe, which was featured that day in a patio dining story in the Los Angeles times. The garden is lovely, with Mediterranean landscaping that is very restful.
“Owning a restaurant was not something that I dreamed about,” says Joanna. “But it turned out that making food for other people was a good fit for me.”
A native of Santa Monica, Joanna worked “random jobs” in her early twenties while also attending art school. “I ended up being a server for a catering company, and helped out the chef in the kitchen one day,” says Joanna. “The chef mentioned it to the owner, and asked if I could be transferred to help in the kitchen.”
Meanwhile, Joanna was also working at a culinary store and school on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. “It was a charming shop – beautiful, fresh and new in its vision,” says Joanna. “I was a salesperson, but then the owner asked if I would assist in the cooking school. It seemed like the opportunity to work in a commercial kitchen kept being presented to me.”
“Despite myself, I started learning the different cooking techniques and began cooking more at home and pursuing cooking more,” says Joanna. “I decided to work in a restaurant and was hired as a line cook with no experience. It was great – I was exposed to working on a line and a whole different side of food than I had seen before.”
Joanna next found a position in a family restaurant where she worked under the tutelage of an “Italian Mama.” The kitchen was modern, but the style was old-world. “She didn’t speak much English, but I learned so much from her about working with simple, fresh ingredients and lots of vegetables,” says Joanna. “The Mediterranean style of food appeals to me – the climate and the attitude matches California.”
After working in the restaurant for a while, Joanna struck out on her own at the original location of Axe on Santa Monica Blvd. “I was working and then I had the impulse to open my own place,” says Joanna. “I just went for it – took the leap.” The original concept was a small café with soups and salads. “I wanted to pursue a functional art career simultaneously,” says Joanna. “But running the restaurant kind of took over – I was running it all as the owner and manager.” The restaurant opened in 1990, but the 1994 earthquake caused significant damage, and she closed the location in 1995.
After a few years off while pursuing other goals related to supporting farmers, Joanna opened Axe in the new location on Abbot Kinney in Venice in 1999. “I’m a pretty casual person, and Axe reflects that while staying true to high-quality ingredients,” says Joanna. “I have a strong passion about farmers and supporting organic growers.”
“Restaurants are a vital part of our food chain,” says Joanna. “But so many people have become separated from where food comes from. I love serving good food and helping people understand why it’s so good.” After a lengthy permitting process, Joanna was finally allowed to open the garden behind the restaurant in November 2009.
For now, she is very comfortable celebrating her garden and has no immediate plans for further expansion. “I really like small intimate sole-proprietor businesses,” says Joanna. “Multiple locations can really impact the quality, and I am satisfied with what we’re doing here. I’m looking into how I can be more involved in fundraising efforts for organic farming interests.”